Mosier Mayor Arlene Burns refers to the city’s water systems as “ancient historical infrastructure.”

“It was from a time when there wasn’t that much growth happening,” Burns said.

The city’s 269 households, four businesses and one sewage treatment plant rely on a single well for water.

Now, Mosier is looking for an alternative water source.

“You just have to have the ability to accommodate the community,” Burns said. “And these are big infrastructure costs that are really tough for a small community of citizens to pay for.”

Mosier got a $1.4 million grant-and-loan combo from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to upgrade its age-old water infrastructure system, which took a beating after a 2016 oil train derailment and fire. 

The award was announced by former Oregon Republican Rep. John Huffman from The Dalles, who resigned last year to run the USDA’s rural development office in Oregon. 

Burns said the city has big plans for what to do with the money. Mosier plans to upgrade its pump stations, and it needs to get its entire system up to code. But its top priority is identifying a backup source of water.

Incidents such as the 2016 train derailment and the Memaloose fire that burned earlier this year put a strain on the city’s water systems. Firefighters were drawing millions of gallons of the city’s treated drinking water to put out those fires. That raised the stakes for city leaders to find an alternative water source. The city is already looking at contractors to identify and build around a second source.

“And if the backup source is good enough water and pure enough and solid enough, it might even become our main source of water,” Burns said.

The city plans to have a connected and upgraded municipal water system built in time for a planned fire station, city hall and community center. The city reached an agreement with Union Pacific on a patch of land in the city following the 2016 derailment and received $1 million to help pay for the new center. Burns says more money is needed to fund the project.